This week: States and how I want to be like Bennie Smith, plus what criteria your deck will need to meet to have any chance this weekend.
SWORN TO SECRECY
At about this time last year, Bennie Smith began a campaign on rec.games.trading-card.magic.strategy to create a brand-new archetype deck to play at States. He posted a primary decklist for a control-green deck, and asked for input and suggestions, with the ultimate intention being to take the deck to Virginia States and do well with it. You probably know the rest of the story: that this deck eventually became Blair Witch Green, and as a result, Bennie is the defending Virginia State Champion.
In the day and age when most decks are kept super-secret (well, with the exception of Jay M-S’s deck explosion), it’s still nice to remember that last year, an "open-source" deck took at least one field. Bennie’s trying it again this year with Borg 2K, and if you haven’t checked out the deck, go wherever Ferrett redirects this pointer and give it some thought. Maybe this year, you too can be a part of making Bennie the two-time Virginia State Champ!
That being said, I’m really quite disappointed at some of the other writers around the ‘net. While Bennie and other great amateur players continue to write about the upcoming Standard format, most of the Pro writers continue to write Draft and Sealed deck analyses of the new set. I mean, I’m all for learning how Rout is broken in sealed deck, but do I have to read it in forty different places? We amateurs want to get the inside glimpse into the Pro way of playtesting, of deckbuilding – and RIGHT NOW is a great time for a Pro player to really capture attention and readership by discussing some of the offbeat, metagame-altering ideas in his or her head.
This weekend, a whole new metagame is going to be established. I probably seem bitter; you all probably think it’s because I’m tired of playtesting against MBC decks ;-), but I’m not really bitter (nor am I playtesting against MBC decks!). I just think it would make for interesting reading, and might help some of us lowly peons escape the "amateur" status that has plagued us for so long.
‘Course, then I couldn’t name my Sideboard column "Amateur Hour."
BUILT TO WIN
OK, so now that I’ve kvetched (ackpt!, my spellchecker doesn’t recognize
‘kvetch’) (just for the record, it didn’t recognize ‘ackpt’ or ‘spellchecker’ either) about open-source, I would like to expound a little on my own thought process for States.
When you first start looking at decks to play in a brand new metagame, it’s a lot tougher than choosing a deck for an established metagame. You don’t have the ability to say, for example, "I’m going to play Rebel WW, because it does okay against Bargain and Replenish," or "I’m going to play MSG Stompy, because it does well against Wildfire and Rebel-WW," because, well… there ARE no Replenishes or Bargains to compare your deck choice against. So you have two options: One, create an entire metagame in your basement, or two, create a deck that can deal with known threats, no matter what deck they’re in. I started with the first one, but once the black/red LD player started punching the Rebel player in the nose, I had to send them all home.
This is what I was left with:
Simplified Solution: "Put at least one thing in the deck that will keep Blastoderm from hurting us badly."
The next question then is, how many other cards do we need to do this for? Here are my top ten:
BLASTODERM: Once Blastoderm hits the table, you are looking at fifteen unstoppable damage, at least. You need an answer for this guy, even if it’s something as simple (or as low-brow) as throwing your poor little Birds of Paradise in front of him. The list of answers is a lot shorter due to his untargetability, so without chump blockers you’re reduced to using non-targeted removal like Wrath of God or Perish. Not that either of those are BAD answers.
TEFERI’S MOAT: If you are relying on creature damage to win you the game, Teferi’s Moat becomes quite troublesome, especially when you consider that it’s usually backed up by some countermagic of some kind. Not all decks have the ability to use solid flying creatures, and so either enchantment removal, or some other way to do the last few points of damage, become necessary. Things like Pyre Zombie or Hammer of Bogardan are effective ways around the Moat, and also provide fits to the countermagic that will be present.
NETHER SPIRIT: The kill choice of blue/black control, Nether Spirit is a continual thorn in the side of players. Not only is he immune to most black removal, but most of the time he’ll keep coming back regardless of how you remove him. Granted, he only hits for a couple each time, but he’s still a pain. Maindeck answers like Scorching Lava, Last Breath or Topple (in certain situations) get rid of Nether Spirit’s recursion, and sideboard options like Cremate can also deal with him permanently.
VOID: The most unique of the mass removal spells, Void can present problems to decks with a large number of spells in one casting-cost block. Consider, for example, Blastogeddon, which has Blastoderm, Armageddon, and sometimes Parallax Wave in the four-casting-cost block, where a Void could prove quite devastating. Unfortunately, the only real solution to this card is to build your deck with a varied mana curve to avoid completely losing your hand. Also remember that Void doesn’t kill enchantments in play, so something like Haunted Crossroads could provide a way to pull back from a Void.
ARMAGEDDON: All decks rely on mana, and most of them use land to provide that mana. Armageddon is usually coupled with mana creatures, or artifact mana sources, in order to split the parity of the land destruction and to allow the caster to recover more quickly. Consider the optimal mana amount your deck operates at, and then decide if you can hold back land in case your opponent should cast Armageddon. Groundskeeper could help you get your land back, and Elfhame Sanctuary can ensure that you get land when you need it. Breath of Darigaaz or Earthquake can take out most mana-producing creatures. (Not them damn Birds, though – The Ferrett)
URZA’S RAGE: From the time when ‘Incinerate-Incinerate–Fireblast-Fireblast’ was a battle cry for Sligh players everywhere comes this devastating finishing punch. It practically dares any control player to drop below ten life, since it can’t be countered or prevented if the Kicker cost is paid. Ivory Mask is a good preventive measure, as is Misdirection (which doesn’t counter it or prevent it, but changes the target). Harsh Judgment is a good sideboard option, as Red is notoriously unable to deal with enchantments.
WRATH OF GOD: Another tough-to-work-around card that definitely punishes any deck that relies on critters to win. The usual workaround of Wrath of God is to not overextend yourself – force the opponent to deal with the threats you present, and when they do, present another one. Recurring creatures like Nether Spirit or Pyre Zombie are good choices against decks that pack Wrath of God, as are creatures that can save themselves like Waterfront Bouncer.
RISING WATERS: Another mana-denial card, although easier to deal with than Armageddon (in and of itself) since it only prevents you from using your land, and doesn’t outright blow it up. An early Seal of Cleansing becomes an ounce of prevention in this matchup, and mana creatures or artifact mana of your own will at least bring the card some parity. A low mana curve might be enough to outrace counters, since most of the counters used with Rising Waters are the kind with alternate costs of bouncing land.
RISHADAN PORT: Okay, so I’m getting desperate, but this card will definitely see play. It’s less likely to completely lock you out of one of your colors in a two- or three-color deck, but the early disruption could easily put a monkey wrench into your game plan. The best counter to Rishadan Port is to make sure your mana base is solid, and could possibly deal with having one or two lands locked down each turn. Tsabo’s Web and Teferi’s Response were both made to hose the Port, although whether either will see a lot of play remains to be seen. Dust Bowl is another maindeck alternative.
KAVU TITAN: There are a couple other creatures that could fill the #10 slot: Blazing Specter, Pyre Zombie, for example. Each one has their own unique reason for being a "must-deal-with" creature – the Specter has evasion, can hit you on turn two when cast with a Dark Ritual, and causes you to discard cards that you’ll probably need at some point; the Zombie can double as creature removal and attacker, plus keeps coming back for more. But the Kavu Titan is probably the most impressive of these creatures, mainly because he’s HUGE (5/5) and tramples when his Kicker cost is paid, thereby nullifying most chump-blocking attempts (whereas a Rib Cage Spider can hold off the other two). He can be targeted, and that helps in dealing with him with maindeck cards like Topple or Snuff Out. Parallax Wave, another maindeck card, returns him to play as a 2/2 Grizzly Kitten.
So once you’ve ensured you have a solution for each of those ten cards, as well as a couple of victory conditions, then you’re ready to start testing for the State Championships.
TESTED, FOR YOUR PROTECTION
Over the last two weeks, some of my attention has been put on coming up with an array of possible/probable decks that will be played at various State Championships. It’s not been an easy task, and from what I can see, there’s probably about a dozen possible choices. This makes the environment much like MBC was: twenty-two decks, four or five dominant ones, but where any deck has a chance to win through (given the right match-ups). This type of environment is great for building decks, but not so great for testing, given that we don’t have any previous examples to go by. So what decks might one test against?
In my opinion, the five decks that will be present in the largest numbers are: blue/white "The Deck"-style control; black/blue Nether-Go; mono-white Rebel-WW; green/white Blastogeddon; and blue/black or blue/black/white Merfolk. So I started by building these five decks to test against. This also gives you a good range of deck TYPES to work with and test against. Following Mike Flores‘ definition in his most recent column, the U/W and U/B control decks are True Control decks; the W/G Blastogeddon is a Board
Control deck; the Merfolk deck is an Aggro-Control deck; and the Rebel-WW deck is a Beatdown deck. The variety gives you the ability to figure out how your deck works in the match-up, whether it wants to be the beatdown or the control deck, and gives you some practice against the field. It will let you see the weaknesses of your current build, and give you some direction in either upgrading your maindeck (or, at the very least, your sideboard).
BLUE/WHITE CLASSIC CONTROL:
4x Counterspell/Thwart/Absorb/Accumulated Knowledge/Wrath of God/ Fact or Fiction
3x Teferi’s Moat
2x Rout/Misdirection/Dismantling Blow/Millstone
4x Coastal Tower/Adarkar Wastes
4x Counterspell/Undermine/Accumulated Knowledge/Fact or Fiction/ Spite-Malice
3x Nether Spirit/Opt/Recoil
2x Foil/Disrupt/Tsabo’s Decree/Forced-March
4x Salt Marsh/Underground River
4x Birds of Paradise/Llanowar Elf/Utopia Tree/River Boa/Blastoderm/Noble Panther/Armageddon/Tangle Wire
3x Dismantling Blow/Chimeric Idol
4x Brushland/Elfhame Palace/Rishadan Port
4x Vodalian Zombie/Lord of Atlantis/Rootwater Thief/Merfolk of the Pearl Trident/Cloud Sprite/Sleeper’s Robe/Recoil/Undermine
3x Disrupt/Wash Out
4x Underground River/Salt Marsh
4x Ramosian Sergeant/Longbow Archer/Steadfast Guard/Fresh Volunteers/ Crusade/Cho-Manno’s Blessing
3x Defiant Falcon/Disenchant/Topple
2x Lin-Sivvi, Defiant-Hero/Reverent Mantra/Thermal Glider/Nightwind Glider
2x Remote Farm
I start out playing games without sideboards, then add in the sideboard elements after a few games. Try and select reasonable sideboard choices for your "opponent" – if you’re playing mono-red against their blue/white control, assume they’ll put in Story Circle or Warmth or Chill, and play a few games at each configuration. This helps me shore up my own sideboard choices as well, and sometimes gives me insight into a maindeck change that might give me a few more options.
Case in point: While discussing Bennie’s Borg 2K deck over the last week or so, I continued to worry about pesky enchantments, and we only had Recoil as a solution. Wash Out was in the original build, and I was a big fan of it (because it wasn’t targeted and could help against a wide variety of enchantments), but Bennie had been finding it to be sub-par in his testing. Finally we decided to try out Spite/Malice, as it gave us another option against enchantments as well as being more creature removal, and so far it’s been a successful change. You never know where inspiration will hit you from.
PARTING IS SUCH SWEET SORROW
Good luck to all of you who will be playing in the various State Championships this weekend! Except those of you who will be playing in New Jersey and who get matched up against me. Then I’ll say "good luck" to you in person, but I’ll probably really mean "I curse you into land screw!" Don’t take it personally.
… oops, it was.